Several private clinics and hospitals in Calcutta and the suburbs are financially exploiting their employees, as well as ripping off unsuspecting patients, charged Citu, the labour arm of the ruling CPM, on Monday.
Without naming the “rogue” clinics and hospitals, the union put them ‘on notice’, saying it would ask their employees to go on strike if the managements did not change their working methods. “Most owners are unfair employers and care providers,” said Chittabrata Majumdar, Citu general secretary.
“Despite abysmal facilities, the hospitals charge exorbitant rates. They make employees work for a pittance and treat them very shabbily. No employee or worker can hope to receive the statutory financial benefits from such organisations,” he said, adding that the trade union would give the “rogue” establishments “sufficient time to make changes before calling for a strike in the interest of employees, workers and patients”.
There are around 1,500 nursing homes and hospitals in and around the city, many of which are cramped and unhygienic.
The Association of Hospitals of Eastern India (AHEI), a conglomeration of nine private hospitals in the city, was caught by surprise by the Citu statement. “We will continue to solve issues through peaceful dialogue. Most private hospitals pay their employees adequately and whenever there are internal disputes, we solve them through negotiations. There is no room for strikes, by which everybody suffers,” asserted Sajal Dutta, president, AHEI.
Majumdar does not expect state opposition to a strike, despite chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s recent statement against “militant trade unionism” in hospitals and nursing homes.
“The chief minister knows that the right to strike is the last resort of the working class to realise its demands. A strike is not a militant trade union activity, and the chief minister is aware of this. We don’t believe in violence,” he added.
“We will not call a sudden strike or agitation in nursing homes or private hospitals. We will give them notice, for the owners to comply with our demands, failing which we will call a strike,” Majumdar added.
The Intuc, a union that traditionally opposes Citu policies and has been organising strikes in private hospitals and clinics recently, was sceptical about the statements. “The government has stopped us from organising strikes in private hospitals, despite legitimate demands of the employees, on numerous occasions. We doubt anything will be different in this case. But we, too, have plans to strengthen our campaign in all private hospitals,” said Intuc state secretary Ramen Pandey.